FAKE NEWS: The government in Chisinau bans the Russian press at the behest of the West

Supporters of opposition political parties, Socialists, Communists and Shor party protest in front of the Parliament building in Chisinau, Moldova, 22 December 2022.
© EPA-EFE/DUMITRU DORU   |   Supporters of opposition political parties, Socialists, Communists and Shor party protest in front of the Parliament building in Chisinau, Moldova, 22 December 2022.

Daruieste Viata

The Government in Chisinau imposes sanctions and uses repression against the Russian media, at the behest of the West, writes rubaltic.ru, a Russia-affiliated media outlet, recently banned in the Republic of Moldova . It resumes older narratives of Russian and pro-Russian propaganda, meant to undermine Chisinau's efforts to protect the information space from disinformation campaigns designed to undermine the pro-European governance, all the more dangerous for security as Russia appears to be engaged in a hybrid war against the Republic of Moldova.

NEWS: “It's been a year since Moldova started limiting access to Russian information and analytical resources. It happens despite the fact that Maia Sandu talks wherever she can about respect for the principle of the rule of law, freedom of speech and other “European values”. The West not only turns a blind eye to this, but also offers millions of dollars to Chisinau for the creation of the “correct” information space.

[...] De facto, Maia Sandu's regime, which can be considered an authoritarian one, started to violate freedom of speech and human rights, under the pretext of “combating disinformation”, by imposing the European information agenda on the population.

Invoking false reasons, in one year several popular Russian-language resources have been blocked in the Republic of Moldova.

[...] The most relevant case was the blocking of six television stations, which supported the Moldovan opposition. Their license was suspended because they were avoiding topics related to Ukraine, and in this way, in the opinion of the authorities, they were promoting the war through silence.

In June 2022, an unconstitutional law on “defending the information space” came into force, and became the basis of the fight with the Russian-language press.

[...] Therefore, it can be rightly stated that the Sandu regime continues the repression against the Russian media segment based on a template developed by the West, tested in Ukraine and in the Baltic States.

We can all see where such actions have led to in Ukraine. Moldova is following the same path.”

NARRATIVE: The pro-European government in Chisinau is turning into a dictatorial regime that, at the behest of the West, bans and undermines the Russian media.

The Republic of Moldova, under the assault of Russian disinformation and propaganda

LOCAL CONTEXT/ETHOS:  The Republic of Moldova is the most vulnerable and exposed country in Central and Eastern Europe to Russian propaganda,  according to the study “Resistance to disinformation in Central and Eastern Europe”, carried out in 2018. The study analyzed to what extent the 14 monitored states are vulnerable to Russian propaganda according to three indicators: level of exposure of the population to disinformation and propaganda; countermeasures by the state; vulnerability to digital warfare.

The study found that in the Republic of Moldova there are three large groups more likely to be manipulated by the media than the rest of the population. The first category is that of the Russian-speaking ethnic minorities, which represent almost 20% of the population; Then, some active parishioners of the Moldovan Orthodox Church - which is canonically subordinated to the Moscow Patriarchate and has among its ranks prelates who over time have spread false narratives identical to those coming from Russia - and the elders, who account for around 700,000 and whose average level of education is lower than that of the rest of the population.

According to another regional study, conducted in 2017, “ The Russian influence in the Republic of Moldova is very strong,  because it is exerted in different ways, including through the numerous media institutions in the Russian Federation that are rebroadcast or republished in Moldova, through new and social media, plus the sources of communication and influence of political parties and other pro-Russian interest groups”.

Given it’s strong informational presence, Russia has been able to systematically manipulate public opinion  and weaken social cohesion in the country. Traditionally, the Russian Federation promotes various manipulative narratives related to the Soviet past, implicitly the idea that the Republic of Moldova belongs to the so-called Russian world, Russkii mir. Since 2014 - in particular, when the Association Agreement with the EU was concluded – “Russia has also promoted narratives directed against the European aspirations of the Republic of Moldova”, according to the Analysis and Strategy for Increasing Resilience to Disinformation in the Republic of Moldova, developed by one of the most famous think-tanks in Chisinau, the Institute for European Policies and Reforms.

Internal monitoring reports have also shown that the Russian TV stations whose programs were rebroadcast in the Republic of Moldova were used as propaganda tools. In 2018, Parliament voted a law that prohibited the broadcast of certain categories of programs such as news, political debates and military broadcasts from states that have not ratified the European Convention on Transfrontier Television, one of which is the Russian Federation. However, the provisions were annulled≥ in 2020 by a parliamentary majority led by the pro-Russia Party of Socialists.

Parliament voted a similar law on the 2nd of June, in a bid to reduce disinformation against the background of the war in Ukraine.

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Intelligence and Security Service has blocked several websites that were distributing fake news, information inciting hatred, war or violence. They were on-line outlets in both Russian and Romanian.

“There is a need for normative intervention and the institutionalization of a clear mechanism to counter disinformation in the online space. There is also a greater understanding of the need to focus on countering disinformation when it affects state security”, the Institute for European Policies and Reforms recomends in a public policy document issued in December 2022.

Lately, the Russian press, pro-Russian politicians in the Republic of Moldova, but also Moscow, at official level, have criticized the Chisinau authorities for allegedly putting pressure on the Russian-language press and the Russian media.

PURPOSE: To present the pro-European government in Chisinau as a dictatorship pursuing anti-Russian policies. To show that the West, by supporting and encouraging such a regime, does not actually believe in the freedoms it talks about, which it only invokes to undermine Russia. To victimize the Russian press, indirectly justifying Russia's military actions and bellicose foreign policy as necessary to defend its so-called “Russian space” (russkii mir).

Reality: Chisinau wants to protect its information space in conditions of hybrid warfare

WHY THE NARRATIVE IS FALSE: Censorship and the banning of Russian media is a heavily promoted topic of Russian propaganda. In fact, the Chisinau authorities have taken several measures, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, against propaganda and disinformation, which threaten the security of the Republic of Moldova. Moreover, officials from Chisinau publicly denounced, last fall, the fact that Russia got engaged in a hybrid war against the Republic of Moldova. Such a war also entails disinformation, fake news and propaganda.

The law banning the broadcasting of certain categories of TV shows refers to a certain category of states - those that have not ratified the European Convention on Transfrontier Television. From a legal point of view, the measures taken under this law were not strictly directed against the press in Russia, so they are not discriminatory.

A second category of measures targets the online space, where the Information and Security Service has identified pages spreading misinformation and blocked them. ISS also blocked websites in Romanian and Russian, and just as the Audiovisual Council, warned and fined both Romanian and Russian language stations.

Finally, a third category of measures were taken based on the Audiovisual Code of the Republic of Moldova.

In December 2022, the Commission for Exceptional Situations decided to suspend the licenses of six television stations that were promoting propaganda , but most of them were  affiliated with  the fugitive politician Ilan Shor, involved in the funding of anti-government protests that have been described as part of the effort to destabilize the Republic of Moldova, which is also one of the Russian Federation’s goals. In fact, Moscow apparently sent to Moldova money and FSB officers,  who worked with the Shor Party in order to reach that goal.

The decision was taken “in order to protect the national information space and prevent the risk of disinformation through the spread of false information or attempts to manipulate public opinion” and was based on “the multiple findings from the monitoring reports of the Audiovisual Council regarding violations of the Audiovisual Media Services Code of the Republic of Moldova, implicitly the application of sanctions for the lack of correct information in covering national events, as well as the war in Ukraine".

The establishment of dictatorship in the Republic of Moldova is another Russian propaganda narrative that refers in the same terms to the entire Western world to suggest that there is a genuine democracy in Russia. However, international reports show that despite being in a war zone and being in a state of emergency during the past year, the level of democracy in the Republic of Moldova has increased.

The Republic of Moldova ranked 69th out of 167 states in the democracy index for 2022, published at the beginning of February by the British research and analysis company Economist Intelligence Unit. The   democracy index  in the Republic of Moldova in 2022 was 6.23 points, a slight increase compared to the previous year; the country also scored the highest number of points in the last seven years.

“Overall, as regards the political criteria, Moldova has a solid foundation in place to reach the stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities”, the European Commission wrote in its Opinion on the EU membership application by Moldova , accepted in 2022.

GRAIN OF TRUTH: The authorities in Chisinau have launched in recent years, but especially in 2022 in the context of the war in Ukraine, several actions aimed at combating disinformation and propaganda, especially from the Russian Federation, given that all studies and reports show an increased vulnerability of the domestic information space in the face of these phenomena.

  • Publication / Media:
    Rubaltic.ru
  • Date of publication:
    25/02/2023
  • Target audience:
    National minorities in the Republic of Moldova, Russian audience
  • Political affiliation:
    the Kremlin
  • Key narrative:
    The pro-European government in Chisinau is turning into a dictatorial regime that bans and undermines Russian media
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